I submitted this to the blog of C.I. author Andrew Snider in September. In case you missed it, here is my response.
See Andrew’s books on our website here.
What is your reaction? What did you wish you had known when started teaching with C.I.?
WHAT DID YOU WISH YOU HAD KNOWN BEFORE STARTING TO TEACH WITH C.I.?
The one thing I wish I had known before starting to teach with C.I. is how long it would take to change the system. When I first started teaching with C.I., I assumed that because this approach made so much sense and got such good results, all world language teachers would quickly adopt it — within two years, tops. Well, that was 27 years ago and I’m still waiting…
The amazing thing to me has been how those outside of the traditional K-16 education system took to it. I taught conversational Spanish classes at the community college level for 22 years. Those classes were outside of the academic track and were always filled to capacity once the word got out that students left a one semester class functionally fluent. The classes were filled with retirees, young professionals, home-schooled kids, and even Spanish majors from the nearby university who wanted to be able to actually speak the language, not just learn about it.
During that time I also taught Spanish to employees at Fortune 500 companies like Hewlett-Packard, Conagra Foods, and United Forest Products, as well as to many regional companies — they all accepted C.I. methods instantly, realizing intuitively how well these ideas work. Again, they wanted to be able to USE the language, not just learn ABOUT it. Some in those classes went so far as to say, “If you ever stop teaching us this way and start teaching with grammar like all the other Spanish teachers we’ve fired, you’re outa here too.” No hay problema, amigos. No hay ningún problema.
CI worked for me at the K-12 level too. With C.I. methods, my public high school students signed up for more Spanish classes beyond the minimum graduation and college entrance requirements. They would not just take two years and then stop taking Spanish. The students in upper-level courses began to look like the overall school population, rather than the white, high socio-economic, academically-oriented, non-athletic girls that had traditionally enrolled in my upper-level language courses. We began to see boys enrolling in AP Spanish, multiple ethnicities, non-academic kids, kids from poorer families and athletes too. They enrolled because they realized they could actually learn to speak the language. They didn’t have to be intellectual whiz kids to get it. We eventually had to offer two AP Spanish classes at our smallish 500 student high school. At the same time, students in a nearby town could not take AP Spanish because in a school of 1700, only 5 students had enrolled in AP Spanish — so they dropped the course from the schedule. The difference was Comprehensible Input-based methods. Despite its effectiveness, the approach was not adopted there.
The entire education system, and especially the university system, has been slow to respond to new and effective methods of teaching. I’m still amazed by that. But the inertia in academia now seems to be changing course, often driven by falling enrollment. It tends to happen in the less-often-taught languages first (check out what’s happening in Latin. More on that soon).
Growth of C.I. methods has been sporadic and unpredictable. It has not been the steady increase in adoption that I anticipated when I began. But change is happening. And I am still hopeful and working hard to help teachers understand how and why to teach with C.I.
This post has been slightly edited from the original sent to Andrew Snider.
Read Andrew’s original blog post with reactions from other teachers here.
Check out Andrew Snider’s website ReadtoSpeakSpanish.Com.